The business and culture of our digital lives,
from the L.A. Times

Category: Travel

Verizon partnership tracks cellphone location data to estimate real-time road traffic

Traffic on the Ventura Freeway. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Airsage, the provider of vehicle traffic information to Google Maps and other clients, has secured the rights to tap into a vital tool for tracking congestion on roadways -- your cellphone.

The Atlanta-based company has struck a deal with Verizon Wireless to tap into the location data transmitted by its 80 million U.S. subscribers.

The cellphones are constantly relaying information about their whereabouts to Verizon, whether through smart phones with a GPS chip or by communicating with cell towers. Digesting this stream of data, the carrier can then get a fairly accurate reading on where you are and how fast you're moving.

"It's pretty refined," said John Johnson, a spokesman for Verizon, about pinpointing a phone's location.

That information gets immediately transferred to Airsage, which uses it to infer how packed the highways are. Airsage's clients can use that information in their applications.

Though Verizon's subscribers can't opt-out of providing information about their every location, the carrier says that the data it transmits to Airsage is anonymous and doesn't identify the location of a phone with a specific person.

The concept has been applied similarly by Dash, an Internet-enabled GPS device for cars. The difference is that Verizon can leverage the locations of the largest install base of mobile users in the country rather than Dash's crowd-sourcing of its limited number of devices on the market.

-- Mark Milian

Appiphilia: Augmented reality iPhone apps for finding subways and Twitter neighbors

When Apple announced the addition of a compass to the iPhone 3GS, shortsighted onlookers responded with a yawn. Yay, we can find magnetic north.

But iPhone app developers quickly saw an opportunity, and a new breed of "augmented reality" apps are about to be born.

Holding the phone in front of you, locations are plotted on a live view of the world in relation to where you're standing. The apps combine the phone's key features -- camera, GPS, compass and Internet connectivity -- to create a sort of heads-up display reminiscent of first-person shooter video games.

The first two poised to hit the App Store -- pending Apple's approval, of course -- are Nearest Tube, which plots subway stations in London, and TwittARound, which shows nearby Twitter users.

Nearest Tube overlays information about subway stations, including the stop's name, its distance from your current location and which lines it serves.

The first version of the app, which has already been submitted to Apple, will cost $1.79 per city and will ...

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Be my guide: Reader-driven road trip from New York to Los Angeles

To mark my transition from intern to full-time journalist with the L.A. Times, I started a cross-country drive on Monday, which I have been blogging for the L.A. Times Daily Travel and Deals Blog.

But this isn't your grandfather's road trip. I didn't even take a paper map.

Instead, I'm relying on an iPhone and a laptop, with tools such as Google Maps for directions to each city and crowd-sourced suggestions from readers, Twitter users, blog commentators and review site Yelp for places to stop.

Online social media have proved an invaluable tool for getting an array of travel tips from locals without actually being in that city. And because I'm a huge music fan, websites such as Upcoming are helping me to find rockin' concerts along the way.

The next stop on my two-week road trip from New York to Los Angeles is Detroit. If you have tips for music venues or other hot spots in Hitsville or any other city along the way (click "Read more" to see my itinerary), post comments on this blog post, send tweets to @mmilian or e-mail

To follow my road trip status live, visit For daily recaps, visit Be My Guide on the Travel Blog.

-- Mark Milian

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Oprah uses wireless to make a technically forbidden call

Would you want to hear her talking on the phone on your plane? Credit: adria-richards via Flickr.

Wireless on airplanes is getting its 15 minutes of fame today, when Oprah makes a call on her show to a Virgin America flight attendant who will be on a plane in the air.

There's a catch, though -- and no, it's not that everyone on the flight will get free cars. Oprah is calling the plane using Skype, the voice-over-Internet protocol service that allows you to make calls over a computer. And Aircell, the WiFi provider, doesn't actually allow passengers to use VoIP, including Skype, on any of its flights.

"We made an exception just for Oprah," said Arianne Venuso, an Aircell spokeswoman. Aircell, which is expanding to dozens of American Airlines and Virgin America planes this summer,  works by transmitting a signal from cell towers around the country to small antennas installed on the planes.

Technically, you could make phone calls with the service, and you could easily make VoIP calls over a service such as Skype. But the airlines have all request that VoIP service be blocked, Venuso said.

"The airlines know that their passengers don’t want to hear people talking on the phone," she said.

But what if that person is Oprah?

-- Alana Semuels

L.A. Times Twitter interview with Virgin's Richard Branson

One of Virgin's Boeing 777-300ERs. Richard Branson is shown in February at a Seattle delivery ceremony. Credit: Ted S. Warren / Associated Press

Our friends over at the travel section of the L.A. Times have just started a live interview with Virgin Group Chief Executive Richard Branson. The "Twittologue" kicked off at 8:20 a.m., and you can follow the banter live on @latimestravel and @virginamerica.

Travel blogger Jen Leo will be talking to Branson about the expansion of his Virgin America airline to Orange County, the wonders of wireless Internet on flights and the even more wondrous ambition of flying through space thanks to Virgin Galactic.

Anyone can join in on the live discussion by appending the hashtag, #vx2oc, to the end of your messages on Twitter. You can then follow that discussion through Twitter search.

Branson will also be the subject of a social media interview next week on Digg Dialogg.

Head over to Twitter now to follow the Twittologue, or you can click the "read more" link at the bottom of this post to get a live feed of the questioning. (Refresh for updates.)

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